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S. Korean Pop Songs Proving to Be Hits in NK

Posted October. 29, 2010 10:12,   


When China began full-blown efforts to open and reform its economy in the mid-1980s, ethnic Korean residents there began flooding into North Korea.

Staying with their relatives in the North, the Korean Chinese sold Chinese-made goods there and bought fishery products from the North.

Their frequent visits to the North also brought South Korean pop songs to the Stalinist country, including “Choi Jinsa’s Youngest Daughter” and “Cotton Field.” At the time, North Koreans sang such songs thinking that they were from Yanbian, a Korean autonomous prefecture in China’s Jilin province.

In the early 1990s, South Korean songs rapidly spread to the North as “Rocky Island,” “Morning Dew” and “The Guy in a Yellow Shirt” became popular. In the mid-1990s, even North Korean soldiers at a military camp sang “Morning Dew” in chorus.

The introduction of South Korean pop further accelerated in the late 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of North Koreans fled their famine-stricken country in search of food.

When defectors who learned South Korean songs through TV or karaoke bars while living in China for several years were either repatriated or voluntarily returned to the North, they brought South Korean songs with them. This marked the second phase of the spread of South Korean songs in the North, with North Koreans singing them secretly.

The third phase began around 2002, when Pyongyang announced the “July 1 economic improvement measure.” Around that time, DVD players grew popular in the North, so South Korean TV dramas began flowing in and North Koreans started openly singing South Korean pop songs.

“Rocky Island” turned into a favorite song at end-of-the-year bashes, “Friend” at birthday parties, and “A Letter from a Private” at ceremonies for new military recruits.

More than 100 South Korean songs are known to be sung in the North.

“Maze of Love,” which opened the way for South Korean songs to enter the North, is hugely popular in the communist country and gave rise to several versions with different lyrics. A Chinese tourist filmed a female North Korean worker singing a version of the song with lyrics praising the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.

North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a group of North Korean defectors in South Korea, said Wednesday that North Koreans changed the lyrics of “Three Bears” to lampoon the Stalinist country’s power transfer to the third generation of the ruling Kim family.

If this is true, the distribution of South Korean songs to the North is entering a new phase. The North began spreading South Korean pop by changing song lyrics for propaganda purposes, but North Koreans now sing South Korean songs to make fun of their government.

The defector group said Pyongyang is struggling to prevent a satirical version of “Three Bears” from spreading throughout the North.